Wheat School: Putting a value on the “unpaid army”

Beneficial insects provide free labour in the field, preying on insect pests, but what is that labour worth? Because we don’t know the economic value of most of these insects, they don’t necessarily get factored into the decision to go ahead with spraying an insecticide.

Finding economic values for the work these beneficial bugs are doing is one of the goals of Haley Catton, new cereal crop entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alberta.

“Although we don’t have dollar values on them yet, I would say our (most economical beneficial insect is) our bio-control agents. Those are specialist insects that are released to control specific pests. So in general you will have some insects that will eat anything, like spiders for example. We call them generalists,” explains Catton. “The ones that are specializing on one species – the specialists – because they kind of focus on the pest species, I think they are probably worth more money.”

The T. julis wasp is one example, as it has followed the spread of cereal leaf beetle, parasitizing the beetle’s larvae and reducing the pest population.

“They are doing free work. Because we don’t pay for them, they are just out there, I think growers maybe aren’t aware of the contributions they are making. That’s something I want to quantify in my new position eventually. It’s a big, big goal, but eventually I would love to put some dollar values on how much money these beneficial insects are saving producers,” says Catton.

Catton adds that she is looking for field sites in Southern Alberta for conducting work on economic thresholds. If you are interested in having an entomologist come out and look through your crop, contact her on twitter @HaleyCatton or email her at [email protected]

For more on beneficials, and the cereal leaf beetle, check out our Wheat School video:

 
 

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